Sweet and Sticky 53 Years Running: Pancake Lovers to Gather at Hueston Woods for Maple Syrup Festival

By Tyler Groth

From peanut butter to lemon juice, to vanilla, there are endless ways to enjoy pancakes according to Oxford readers who responded to a recent query on Facebook. Despite the difference in ingredients that go into pancake mix, there was one factor everyone agreed makes pancakes great: REAL MAPLE SYRUP.

During the first two weekends of March, Hueston Woods State Park will host the 53rd annual Maple Syrup Festival.

Hueston Woods naturalist, Kathryn Zeppernick, said the festival drew 3,600 visitors last year and the park staff expects an even bigger crowd this year.

Another park naturalist, Shawn Conner, said the festival is put on with the assistance from the Division of Wildlife, naturalists from parks across the state, and lots of volunteers.

Located in the Trailblazer Dining Room in the park’s lodge, the festival begins with all-you-can-eat pancakes served from 8 a.m. to 1 p.m. In addition to a full breakfast menu, pancakes will be served with both real maple syrup and maple-flavored corn syrup. Breakfast prices are $7.50 for adults and $5.50 for kids ten and under.

From noon until 4 p.m., festival-goers will have the opportunity to learn about the intricate and delicate process of making real maple syrup and participate in hayrides through the picturesque landforms and greenery of the park.

Zeppernick said the process of making maple syrup from maple sap can take up to a few months, but it is largely dependent upon the weather.

“We tap the trees in late January to early February and collect sap from about 150 trees through March. Once we collect it, we take it to the sugar house, and boil the sap to 219 degrees, typically taking us between 4 and 8 hours,” Zeppernick said. “But the amount of syrup is weather dependent. The best flow of sap happens when it’s freezing at night and above freezing during the day.”

Conner further explained that because sap is 97 percent water, it stays at water’s boiling point for quite some time. The boiling point slowly rises until the exact moment when the desired product is ready.

“Seven degrees higher than the boiling point of water is when you know you’ve reached syrup,” Conner said. “Some of the water will begin to evaporate and the sugar from the sap will thicken.”

The tour, which will roughly last an hour, concludes with maple syrup samples and the opportunity to purchase syrup, popcorn, beverages and more. These items will be sold by the Friends of Hueston Woods, a non-profit organization dedicated to improving Hueston Woods for the enjoyment of all visitors.

In addition to maple syrup activities, participants can visit the Nature Center where indoor and outdoor exhibits featuring reptiles, birds and more, will be open from from 10:00 a.m. to 4:30 p.m.

“We have our snake and turtle exhibits, in addition to our 13 birds of prey exhibit where we have Hawks, Eagles and Owls,” Zeppernick said. “The Division of Wildlife will also be bringing and setting up an archery trailer and inflatable BB-gun range to learn some gun safety for things to do while waiting for hayrides,” Conner said.

Those who cannot attend the festival this Saturday or Sunday will have another opportunity the following weekend. The festival concludes on Saturday, March 10, two days before National Pancake Day.